Takayama washout

Nine years ago to the day we arrived in Takayama without a place to stay, not realising that it coincided with the Takayama Matsuri, one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals. Fortunately the staff at the tourist office found us a room and we had the pleasure of watching the enormous wooden floats being hauled through the night streets ridden by young drummers and flautists and accompanied by marchers.

Finding suitable accommodation was a lot harder this time and initial bookings split us between distant hotels for the two nights. Fortunately, there were some late releases of rooms and I got us two nights in the Best Western Hotel. We were looking forward to sharing the parade with Alex, the spectacle of lights and noise. It appeared like plenty of other foreigners were here for it too.

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and it drizzled or showered all day. The floats were left in their tall halls, though the doors were opened for some to be shown.

Portable mini shrine with rain cover

There is still plenty to enjoy in Takayama, but first we had our own washout by taking our clothes to a coin laundry near the post office. The huge machine, rather expensive at Y1,200 for 70 minutes, was a combined washer and dryer and our clothes actually came out dry, an improvement from the coin laundries at hotels.

While the clothes were washing we walked to the Jinya mae morning market and enjoyed a breakfast of freshly cut apple and mitarishi dango, skewered rice balls grilled with local sweet miso sauce. We purchased a pack of local miso too. Last time we were here, back in 2008, a pregnant B couldn’t tolerate the smell or flavour of miso, but it’s a wonderful addition to many dishes.

A number of streets in Takayama have retained their old brown wooden buildings, which house restaurants, craft and produce shops. Alex decided that he too loved miso soup after sipping on a sample provided in one shop. We bought various crackers too. Along with woodcraft, embroidery and sewing are popular crafts in the region and Alex was so cute when he asked to buy a little rat toy, appropriate as most of the range of animals related to the Asian zodiac and he was born a rat.

Returning with our clean clothes and shopping to the hotel, we went out again for some lunch at Bandai Kadomise, a meal of more Hoba Miso for B and I and tempura for Alex. Miso enhances the already rich flavour of the Hida beef and grilling it over a flame is perfect meal for a cold day.

On we wandered through the old streets and along another where a long row of colourful stalls had been set up to sell typical Japanese festival food, including takoyaki, yakisoba, batter pancakes and chocolate bananas. Alex had a go at a cross between pinball and bingo where the objective is to the balls into a line of holes. No luck, though he did enjoy his consolation prize of loom bands.

Alex got a shock when, avoiding an oncoming car, he stepped into an open drain. Fortunately, the water was shallow as some alongside the street are quite deep.

As the floats would likely not be making an appearance along the streets we visited the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall to view some of these massive structures up close. I thought that the museum could have done with more multimedia of the parade itself rather than just the static displays of retired floats.

Our tickets included a visit to the Sakurayama Nikkokan, which contained exquisite model recreations of the colourful shrines at Nikko, north of Tokyo. After a quick climb up to look at the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine we returned out into the rain to try to catch a marionette performance on one of the floats in the sheds. Sadly, we just missed out on what must have been only a short show. Last time it went on for ages. Maybe we’ll have to come back with Alex another year.

He was sitting outside a beef bun shop, his name and age provided.

We were all exhausted by this stage and collapsed into bed back at our hotel. Except for Alex who used up the battery on the iPad.

It was getting close to seven in the evening when we struggled out of the hotel again. We weren’t terribly hungry after snacking on small items, including a bowl of Hida beef stew and skewers of beef, most of the afternoon. On a side street near the food stalls we found a little restaurant where we had small meals of local noodles and beef rice.

We returned to the hotel along by the “scenic route”. The historic streets were shuttered and dark but for the festive paper lanterns strung up along the way, giving a very mysterious air to the quiet paths. More lanterns lit the western side of the red Nakabashi bridge, where the parade would have started and ended. It was quiet now, but for what looked to be a media crew ensconced in one brightly lit corner.

Though the parade had been cancelled there was still a festive air about Takayama, already a town worth visiting for its preserved history and food. It’s difficult to leave without gaining something from here, even if it’s only in the belly.

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